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Percy Wells Cerutty

(1895—1975)


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(1895–1975)

An Australian running teacher, as he preferred to call himself, who coached and trained a number of world-beating Australian middle-distance runners. These included John Landy, one of the men at the forefront of the athletes threatening to the break the four-minute mile barrier in 1954, and Herb Elliott, whose winning margin in the 1960 Rome Olympics in the 1,500 metres astounded the world of sport. Cerutty was a post-office worker turned athletic guru, whose athletes attributed to him an extraordinary capacity to inspire in words. Elliott, interviewed on Radio National Australia in January 2001, recalled Cerutty'smagnificent ability which very few people have got, some of the great speakers in history I guess, Winston Churchill had it, I guess King had it, I guess maybe to some extent, JFK. He just had the ability to transfix you with words, and lift you 20 feet into the air. I mean he had a wonderful eloquence, an inspiring eloquence about him.Elliott added that Cerutty got his athletes interested in using their sport ‘to develop you into a better human being’, not just to aspire to ‘become a world champion’. Cerutty, seen by many as wacky and eccentric, specialized in urging his trainees, or pupils, up precipitous sand dunes, and encouraging what were at the time seen as strange health-food diets. Graeme Kelly's Mr Controversial: The Story of Percy Wells Cerutty (1965) collects anecdotes about and memories of Cerutty's Portsea training camp south of Melbourne, Australia, and documents some of the games of the psyche that Cerutty would play with his athlete pupils to instill in them the will to win.

magnificent ability which very few people have got, some of the great speakers in history I guess, Winston Churchill had it, I guess King had it, I guess maybe to some extent, JFK. He just had the ability to transfix you with words, and lift you 20 feet into the air. I mean he had a wonderful eloquence, an inspiring eloquence about him.

The success of his athletes generated a revolution in training methods, despite the mocking depiction of him by traditionalists and sporting authorities. Roger Bannister, four-minute mile pioneer, reviewed Cerutty's Athletics: How to Become a Champion in the Sunday Times (15 May 1960), observing that Cerutty's written words might spark scepticism and ridicule, but that his personal dynamism and actual achievements must be acknowledged as revolutionary for their times. As Bannister observed, ‘a diet fortified by nuts, raisins and raw oats’ was combined with strength training, ‘quick thinking, intelligent planning’, and tactical competitive courage, in a formula that produced undeniably successful results.

Subjects: Sport and Leisure.


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